Any vacation with kids is likely to include some time spent on playgrounds. Hence the name “family trip.” Fair is fair, and you can’t really ask a five year old to follow an adult-centric itinerary crammed full of museums, historical landmarks and leisurely lunches. In heavy doses, much of the culture will be lost on them, and their boredom will translate into understandable whining that will, in turn, ruin said adult-centric itinerary.
In my experience, it is advisable to toss in a playground at least twice a day on a city visit, and you should be prepared to stop again if you pass one along the way. In addition to being a very useful bone to throw at a child weary of sightseeing (we all like to have a say in how our day goes), playgrounds can give them an immersion course in the language, people and culture of your vacation spot. Whether they’re in a different state or a different country, playgrounds can say as much about a place as any public space. Are they graffiti- and litter-ridden? Modern or old-fashioned? Common or few and far between? Filled with locals or tourists?
As an added bonus, playgrounds are great places for adults to people watch, contemplate what we’ve seen so far, and give our ears a short break from the repetitive refrain, “Can I have some ice cream?”
Holland is a very kid-friendly country, and there are big, beautiful parks in most cities, as well as tiny ones tucked into most neighborhoods. As much as my daughter loves playing on them, I love seeing the variety of playgrounds that range from uber-modern to downright antiquated. Just as Dutch culture is ever-so-slightly different from American ways, the playgrounds are not wholly dissimilar, but somehow clearly not American. Here is a sampling of playgrounds we enjoyed in Holland.
I love the Vondelpark more than any other park I’ve ever visited. When I lived in Amsterdam years and years (and years) ago, I spent some part of every day there–walking to the city center from our cold, bare bones room in a bank building on the Overtoomsesluis, going for a jog, soaking up some warmth like all of these Amsterdammers on a rare sunny day:
It’s a lovely park, and quintessentially Dutch: filled with art and cafes, manageable on foot or bike, well-maintained, and lush with beautifully planned green spaces. Its playgrounds are just as wonderful, and we visited three of them on a recent visit to see old friends.
This cool playground merges old and new Dutch design. Aldo Van Eyck designed the play circles on either side of the towers in 1968, and Carve recently added the climbing structure.
Carve also designed this awesome treehouse in the middle of Vondelpark and my daughter, husband and I all enjoyed climbing through it. If you want to know more about the treehouse or the playground mentioned above, visit this terrific blog: http://playgrounddesigns.blogspot.nl/2011/08/vondelpark-playscape-aldo-van-eyck-and.html
Speltuin de Leemkuil
Stella loved this weird playground full of airplane-shaped jungle gyms, in part because she learned to ride a bike here!
Perhaps no playground is better than the one you get to go to with your cousin.
Okay, so a jump house is not a playground. This was the kid entertainment at a festival in front of our favorite cafe. As the children had the bounce house experience of a lifetime, all of us parents stood around, sipping wine, wringing hands and wondering aloud whether it was too dangerous. What is that word for the shirking of responsibility in a group? The bystander effect or something like that? Whatever that word is, we were all engaged in it.